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I've read at least three blog posts this week arguing that Google should buy Blackboard. Good grief, people. That's ridiculous. And (I hope) it will never happen.

Yes, Google is flush with cash and looking for acquisitions. And yes, a purported $6 billion deal for Groupon just fell through. And yes, Google wants to be a player in the education space.

None of that does anything to convince me that Google should acquire the learning management system giant.

I'll stop here and confess: I don't much like Blackboard. It's been 4 years now since I was a grad student and college instructor, true, but I remember keenly. Blackboard sucked.

Blackboard & Open Source Alternatives

But it's not just my own bitterness (it was grad school after all, so oh yes there's bitterness) that makes me doubt Blackboard as a key to Google's control of the coveted higher ed market.

IT budgets have seen substantial cuts this year at both private and public universities, and so not surprisingly, many schools when given the chance (the contract's up) have turned away from Blackboard's expensive licensing and moved to an open source solution. The 2010 Campus Computing Survey found this year that Blackboard�s share of the LMS market is down significantly, from 71% to 57%. Its competitors, Sakai, Moodle, and Desire2Learn -- the first two of which are open source -- all saw their market share increase.

Blackboard & Patent Litigation

Blackboard relies on a licensing model that works quite differently from Google's free Apps for Education. And I'm not sure I see why, after having such success with its cloud endeavors, Google would now feel it needs to "buy" Blackboard's customers. After all, they're not a particularly happy bunch (I'm not alone in my displeasure for the company. I promise you).

Furthermore, Blackboard has spent the past 3 and a half years in litigation with Desire2Learn over patent issues -- a case that's enflamed some members of the free and open source (FOSS) community. Considering the battle that Google is waging with Oracle over alleged Java patent infringement, it's hard to imagine Google would want to acquire a company that's been involved in such high profile and unpleasant patent litigation.

But that's karma maybe. Not business.

 

Does Google Want to Buy a LMS?

 

Google's Eric Schmidt recently noted the company's tendency to "buy" rather than "build." Even so, Google already has several key pieces of an LMS in place. There's a very rudimentary scheduling tool called Cloud Course. It's not awesome, but then again...

 

And of course there's the whole Google Apps for Edu suite. Alongside this is the Apps Marketplace, where a number of third-party developers and startups already offer management tools that integrate with Google's products. And so it seems to me that if Google wanted to buy a company in order to get into the LMS business -- which is an assumption I'm not even sure I can agree to -- then it seems likely it would be one of these newer/nimbler/smaller startups well before it would be the behemoth that's Blackboard. Inside Higher Ed's Joshua Kim argues that Google needs to buy an LMS, namely Blackboard, to demonstrate it's willing to make a "major bet on higher ed." I contend Google's already bet on Google Apps for Education. And sure, with over $30 billion in cash reserves, maybe Google wants to place another bet. But even if Google bets on education (Dooooo ittttt!), I just can't believe that bet would be on Blackboard.

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Audrey Watters


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